In Ethiopia, education knows no boundaries

19 June 2018

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Forced to flee their home, school, and all things familiar – this is the reality of a young refugee or displaced person. Once in a new place, they sometimes have access to an in-camp school or some informal opportunities. Less common is full integration into the national school system. While the latter is one of the most promising ways to integrate into a new country, education officials often report that they face a myriad of challenges in providing education for refugees in national systems.

Ethiopia is a prime example of a country taking serious steps towards the integration of refugees and displaced persons into national systems, including education. This is within the context of a long history of welcoming refugees. Today, over 900,000 persons from some 24 countries – predominately Eritrea, Somalia, and South Sudan – call Ethiopia home.

Improving the plight of refugees

In November 2017, Ethiopia became one of the first countries to roll out the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework. This aims to enhance refugee self-reliance and inclusion in national development plans, provide refugees with better possibilities to improve their lives, and ease pressure on host countries as a way to promote peaceful co-existence.

Access to quality education is a central part of the country’s efforts to improve the plight of refugees. It is also a shared responsibility, requiring the involvement and expertise of a multitude of actors including the Ministry of Education, and humanitarian and development partners.

'We have to be involved as a nation,' explained Getachew Admasu Bishaw, Project Monitoring & Evaluation Senior Expert, Ministry of Education, at a recent IIEP workshop held in Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2018, in partnership with UNESCO, UNHCR, UNICEF, and the Global Education Cluster. 'It is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, and our Ministry – our country – signed this pledge.'

Ashenafi Demeke Kebede, Senior Education Officer, Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), also told IIEP that the inclusion of school-aged refugees in the national education plan has many benefits for all learners. 

In addition to being cost-effective, he noted, 'if there is a comprehensive plan to include refugees it engages everybody so that also develops social cohesion and harmonization. It provides a sustainable solution. If refugees are included in the long-term plan there is then a good bridge and we can sustain the humanitarian support and have a development impact in the long term.'

However, a number of different entities working in education can also result in what Kebede  calls 'parallel planning', or planning for different segments of the population separately, without close coordination. This is common not only in Ethiopia, but in many countries with large refugee populations. As a result, education for refugees may not be prioritized. Even more likely is that refugees remain outside the formal school system. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) highlights in their 2017 report Working Towards Inclusion: Refugees Within the National Systems of Ethiopia that while refugee children and youth have the right to access national schools, 48 per cent remain outside of the formal school system in Ethiopia.

Planning together for a stronger impact

Joint education sector planning is a way forward, as is improved coordination among all partners on educational planning and management. This can help ensure the successful implementation of refugee education services, as well as lay the foundation to ensure equity in the provision of education in refugee camps and host communities.

IIEP has been working to support joint planning with host and refugee communities in Ethiopia since July 2017. This two-year project will reinforce the capacities of both the Ministry of Education and ARRA in five refugee-affected regions (Gambella, Tigray, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Afar) to plan for crises and refugee influxes. The capacity-development initiative for education authorities in host and refugee communities includes the collection of data on the risks of conflict or natural hazards that schools must contend with. Planners will then use school mapping tools to analyse key indicators, and support will be provided to enrich inspection tools with relevant crisis-sensitive questions, and to support education authorities in identifying strategic priorities and responding to the results of the analysis.

In bringing together all key education stakeholders through joint planning processes, it is hoped that coordination and collaboration between the refugee and host education will be enhanced.

Mellese Bedanie Turie, Education Cluster Coordinator, UNICEF Ethiopia, also noted the importance of national policy/regulation, joint coordination and planning at the recent Nairobi workshop.

'We have to come together. We need to have a coherent and joint way forward in terms of policy, planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation for these target groups,' Turie said. 'If there is a clear policy and a plan, we know why and what to do and how to do it and children will not be left behind.'